Dumb and Dumber

Wednesday was not a good day for the National Pastime. Neither reason nor logic seemed to be the case on Wednesday, when two of the dumbest moves in recent memory came down within maybe an hour of each other. One involved possibly the biggest PR gaffe (to date) of the 21st Century, the other possibly the biggest personnel gaffe (to date) of the 21st Century. And both involved the Atlanta Braves.

There may or may not be a message there, but sure as Lefty Grove was the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time (with all due respect to Randy Johnson winning his 300th yesterday), these two major league faux pas were related. First came the almost incomprehensible news that the Braves had released Tom Glavine, some six weeks after they had him lined up to be their fifth starter, and one week after he made two minor league rehab starts that produced an ERA of 0.00. Say what? Then, before any of us could catch our breath, came the word that the Pirates had given away, not their best player, but damn near their only good player, to those same Braves. Say what?  

Actually, the Braves calling in the pitcher who had been the face of their franchise for most of the past 20 years, and telling him he was no longer good enough to pitch in the majors, turned out to be a comprehensible move. Maybe reprehensible, but certainly comprehensible. Despite doing all the rehab work that was required of him, and despite baffling minor league hitters in the same fashion that he once fooled major league hitters, Glavine was summarily dismissed by the Braves to quite obviously; A) save a few million bucks, B) open the door for the promotion of pheenom Tommy Hanson, and, C) set aside some cash to pay for their new centerfielder, Nate McLouth. That's simple enough, isn't it? Makes sense, doesn't it? Exchange a 43 year old who could end up costing you $4.5 million this year for a not-yet 23 year old pitcher, reputed to be the top pitching prospect in baseball, who'll cost what, $400,000 this year? Makes good economic sense, especially for a franchise whose long green salad days under Ted Turner are long gone.  

Of course, while such a transaction may make sense, it was a terrible PR move, sort of like the dissing of John Smoltz earlier this year. What was it that George Santayana said about falling to learn from history? Recall that the Braves, whose attendance, surprise, surprise, has been tanking, took another major PR hit earlier in 2009, when they cut ties to the other long-time face of the franchise, Mr. Smoltz, who is now preparing to come back and battle American League batters for the Red Sox. Apparently, the Braves didn't learn anything in the Smoltz (who has himself weighed in negatively on the Glavine deal) debacle. They certainly didn't learn anything in the interim about PR, not having made the absurd claim that cutting Glavine was baseball decision, and not a money decision. And, what's worse, if Glavine does go through with his expressed desire to keep pitching (one can imagine the Mets texting him right now), and pitches to any level of success – not an impossible prospect, given his numbers in his rehab starts – well, the Braves' smoke screen that their former ace couldn't cut it in the bigs anymore is going to look pretty weak. Lesson from PR 101 – you don't try to spin doctor a bad PR move with an excuse that won't hold up to any kind of even cursory scrutiny.  

Still, it could be worse. The Braves could be the Pirates, who have no smoke screens to hide behind, not after having completed trading away their entire 2008 outfield – by far the best part of that team (actually, the only above-average part of that team)… for what… here's for what…  

RHP Charlie Morton
OF Gorkys Hernandez
LHP Jeff Locke
3B Andy LaRoche
RHP Ross Ohlendorf
OF Jose Tabata
RHP Bryan Morris
RHP Jeff Karstens
RHP Craig Hansen
RHP Daniel McCutchen
OF Brandon Moss

Since July of last year, the Buccos have traded away Jason Bay, Xavier Nady and now Nate McLouth for the above-listed 11 players… none of whom show any indications of becoming anything more than journeymen major leaguers. In fact, it could be speculated that only LaRoche and Ohlendorf (and maybe Morton) have any chance of even becoming longer-term major leaguers, and even that's a stretch, given the Pirates' grisly recent history of chewing up and spitting out pitching prospects like the Tom Gorzelannys and Ian Snells of the world. Like Gorzelanny and Snell (as well as Karstens and Hansen), Ohlendorf has labored in Pittsburgh this season.

Ohlendorf 5-5 4.85
Karstens 2-2 4.83
Hansen 0-0 5.68

Which is a lot better than Morton, the "centerpeice" of the Pirates/Braves trade, did last year in Atlanta, when he went 4-8 with a 6.15 ERA. Hernandez, the number two man in the current deal, is your classic speedster with no power, and Locke is in Single-A. As for the rest of the PNC 11, LaRoche is a high average, no power hitter (along with Freddy Sanchez, giving the Pirates two such hitters in the infield), Tabata and Morris are china dolls, residing on the DL, McCutchen is Karstens Lite, and Moss is your classic fifth outfielder. To summarize… seven pitchers, none of whom look to be better than maybe a number five starter (or a mop-up reliever) for a .500 team, three sub outfielders, and, by far the best of the PNC 11, a singles-hitting infielder who plays a position that now demands a power hitter. Wow!

Santayana isn't the only philosopher to speculate on the nature of history. Confucius postulated that history was cyclical. And, as you well know, there's a current saying that what goes around, comes around. Maybe the Pirates are being punished for signing Lou Bierbauer away from the Philadelphia Athletics in 1891 (an action that earned them their nickname.)

Continuing with this cyclical pattern, and to come up with some sort of rational explanation for the Pirates' actions (one assumes that Zach Duke and Paul Maholm will be leaving any day now), let's briefly re-visit an observation made in last year's "19 to 21," which is now, as you surely know, available in book form (from PublishAmerica… www.publishamerica.com) as "The Breaks Even Out and Midnight Comes Quickly for Cinderella." (Hey, if Jayson Stark's book gets plugged on ESPN.com, I can plus mine here…)

"Make no mistake – there is a de facto minor league team playing in Pittsburgh. What has been the only, the sole function of Organized Baseball's minor leagues since the Giants and Dodgers moved west some 50 years ago? Since the demise of the Pacific Coast League as a somewhat viable stand-along entity, minor league baseball has existed for one reason only – to act as a farm system, to provide players to major league teams. And that is exactly what the Pittsburgh Pirates have been doing since the close of the 1992 season."

At least Braves fans, as outraged (with good reason) as they might be, still have something resembling a major league operation in town. In Pittsburgh, meanwhile, the Pirates are on their way to breaking the record for consecutive sub-.500 seasons.

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